How will the Russo-Ukrainian war end?
As of late 2023, the war has dragged on as a strategically stalemated war of attrition, with February 2024 set to mark the two-year point of the war. To gauge its aftermath, it is necessary to examine the strategic objectives of both Ukraine and Russia to postulate the most probable outcome.
In undertaking such forecasting, Canadians should consider the likely shape of the post-war European security architecture, as well as the role that Canada should play within that architecture.
Ukraine’s military objective and only acceptable war outcome remains the expulsion of all Russian forces from its 1991 territory, including Crimea. To that end Ukraine launched in June 2023 a strategic level offensive to drive a wedge through the formidable Russian layered defence lines and push toward the Sea of Azov to break the Russian land bridge to Crimea. However, apart from tactical-level breakthroughs, Ukraine was unable to achieve this objective, although operations continue.
Ukraine is now faced with a possible stalemate and will continue to depend on Western material support in terms of equipment, munitions and financial assistance to bolster its army. US support remains the keystone as without such support Ukraine would be unable to sustain its war efforts. Yet divisions in the House of Representatives, waning support among voters and the distraction from the Middle East and the migration problem at the southern border raise doubt about the sustainability of US funding for Ukraine in 2024.
Nevertheless, assuming some measure of US assistance continues to supply Ukraine with critical amounts of ammunition and equipment, no amount of combined US and Western support will assist Ukraine in meeting its most pressing demand in a war of attrition: namely the people power component of the military equation. Specifically, Ukraine needs soldiers to man the equipment and to conduct ongoing military operations.
With the war of attrition rolling into its second year, the significant Ukrainian people power losses by its armed forces will have a critical impact on Ukraine’s capacity to conduct military operations. New technology and additional Western armaments such as F16 fighter jets are unlikely to alter the balance especially considering Russia’s demonstrated potential to counter these effects. Therefore, while Ukraine may attempt to sustain some form of strategic defence, eventually it may be required to accept a ceasefire due to its inability to sustain offensive – or even or defensive – operations.
Russia’s war goals may be classified as either minimalist or maximalist. The minimalist goal is to fully absorb the four oblasts of eastern and southern Ukraine that the Russian Duma formally incorporated into the Russian Federation in 2022: Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia, while retaining Crimea as well. Depending on the development of the war in 2024 and Russia’s ability to sustain military operations, it may eventually return to its initial maximalist goal of regime change in Ukraine.
The maximalist goal includes conquering Ukrainian territory further along the Black Sea coast to at least Odessa, and possibly to Transnistria, linking up with Russian forces inat region of eastern Moldova. Such a scenario would leave Ukraine as a landlocked rump state. The present relative balance of forces between Russia and Ukraine makes this seem unlikely but could come into play if Ukrainian forces suffer disproportionate levels of attrition and exhaustion.
That said, the diminishing people power pool available for military operations, particularly for Ukraine, suggests a probable outcome of a military stalemate in 2024. The strategic line along a 1,000-kilometre front has not shifted meaningfully since December 2022, suggesting more of the same in 2024. The Russians remain entrenched in strong defensive positions and demonstrate the capability to defend against a Ukrainian strategic breakthrough. Thus far, the variety of Western technology and equipment such as tanks, artillery and air defence systems have not been the “silver bullet” for Ukraine. The Russians have managed to adapt to increased levels of Western technological support Ukraine with their own countermeasures. This is likely to continue into 2024, including Russian ability to counter the expected presence of Ukrainian F16 fighter jets.
Therefore, a ceasefire determined by the point where the armies of either side become exhausted seems to be the most plausible outcome of the war. What may be politically unacceptable today by both Ukraine and Russia may become altered by military reality on the ground as time passes. How the conflict will freeze may be defined by military reality rather than political agreement.
The post-war environment between Ukraine and Russia will be a hard peace. The military ceasefire will likely be broken episodically by exchanges of fire across the frozen frontlines. Nevertheless, both the bilateral and international post-war construct will aim for a form of armed coexistence. Initial steps will need to be taken to stabilize the military situation between Ukraine and Russia. This will involve bilateral actions between Ukraine and Russia to agree to an exchange of prisoners of war, to regulate checkpoints along the frozen frontlines, and to coordinate demining to facilitate humanitarian corridors through them.
In the broader context, Ukraine will perhaps obtain select bilateral security guarantees from the West to sustain an armed coexistence with Russia. This would be in lieu of the often-discussed NATO accession for Ukraine, on which there remains no consensus within the Alliance. Indeed, consensus for NATO accession amongst the Allied members may continue to be difficult to arrange even in the post-war context. More likely could be bilateral security guarantees of large powers such as the US, UK, France, Poland and possibly Germany. Russia may also be more willing to abide by such bilateral agreements, as any attempt to bring Ukraine into NATO – an outcome which Moscow sought to prevent in launching this war – seems unacceptable to Russia. The EU would likely figure largely in the post-war reconstruction schemes for Ukraine, but Kyiv’s ultimate accession to the EU would remain uncertain due to Ukraine’s lack of control over its own territory and its long history of reform inertia.
From a NATO perspective, the post-war security environment would essentially take the form of a Cold War Redux with territorial defence as the core task, although with a more eastward border against a smaller adversary than the Soviet Union. This requires the Alliance to maintain a conventional force presence on eastern border strong enough to deny, and thus deter, Russian aggression or coercion. Much has already been accomplished in recent times to close NATO’s deterrence gap vis-à-vis Russia, but some elements remain without clarification: permanent or rotating forces, the number of large-scale exercises conducted, and other forward-positioned military infrastructure. NATO’s nuclear deterrent of course would underwrite this enhanced conventional defence.
In this context, NATO will continue a relationship with Ukraine focused on training, equipment support and diplomatic consultation. Ukraine would continue to receive Western support across the board, including reconstruction funding, but its status is likely to remain both outside of NATO and the EU for some time to come.
With this backdrop in mind, the OSCE would need to be revitalized to play the important role it once had in the Cold War to manage armed coexistence through regional diplomacy. With the aim of negotiating a post-war security architecture within the OSCE space that would stabilize the peace beyond armed confrontation, the OSCE should start with rebuilding the process of Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBMs).
Prior to moving toward more formal documents, the tentative peace following a ceasefire would need to be secured through a process of ongoing dialogue. More formal confidence-building steps would follow the basic elements of establishing an atmosphere where peace replaces war. The initial post-war dialogue would need to address the basic elements of sustaining a ceasefire and gradually establishing a level of confidence that more formal agreements would enhance the fragile peace.
In due course, the various Vienna CSBM Documents that were negotiated at the end of the Cold War would need to be brought into line with the new security challenges. Force limitation agreements, such as the now-defunct CFE Treaty, would be addressed later in the process once a primary measure of military and diplomatic stability had been achieved. The essential challenge in the post-war security architecture would be to set out the diplomatic conditions in Europe that would dissuade further war between Ukraine and Russia and deter a potential NATO-Russia war with the attendant risk of global nuclear war.
To be sure, this would be a far greater challenge for the OSCE today than were the agreements reached following the Helsinki Accords in 1975. At that time the Cold War had entered a period of détente whereby there was a common spirit of achieving coexistence between the rival blocs of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The situation following a hard peace between Ukraine and Russia following several years of war would necessitate a longer-term effort towards a stabilized peace before moving on to attempts for more advanced collective security measures such as CSBMs and force posture limitations.
Upon the war’s end, Canada would be presented the opportunity to play an active role in both the NATO and OSCE contexts. Within NATO, Canada currently has the important responsibility of leading a Multinational Brigade based in Latvia, as part of NATO’s new forward deployments. In the post-war context, this Brigade Group would continue to play a fundamental role in deterrence and defence of NATO territory. This role highlights Canada’s profile within NATO internationally and is an important enabler to enhance Canadian diplomatic efforts in Europe. The fact that Canada would maintain committed ground forces in Europe would physically underline it commitment to the security of NATO’s eastern border.
Finally, Canada’s seat at the OSCE, coupled with its NATO commitment of deployed forces in Latvia, will open the door for traditional and pragmatic diplomacy to work much as it did in the Cold War to minimize the dangers of the Cold War Redux. Canadian efforts will continue along proven lines during Cold War 1.0 where Canada worked with the US to flesh out the practicalities of confidence building measures. It was and remains a fact that great power dialogue occurs behind the scenes of international fora such as the OSCE. Such a dialogue in turn sets the stage for detailed negotiations based on agreed principles. Canada has the track record and potential for work in both these diplomatic dimensions.
Notwithstanding how the Russo-Ukrainian war ends, Canada’s security interests will continue to be linked with those of Europe for the foreseeable future. Building a post-war security architecture following upon the most destructive war on the European continent since World War II is central to ensuring a secure and safe Canada. In fact, ensuring stability in Europe will be a cornerstone for Canada’s ability to focus on growing threats and challenges in the Arctic and Asia.
The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement.
On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.
This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.
– Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament
– Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)
– Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group
– Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast
– David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security
Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)
What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?
At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.
This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.
– Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade
– Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council
– Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar
– Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle
– Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks
The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel.
On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.
Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University
Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum
Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University
Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council
Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters
The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges.
In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region.
– Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University
– Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
– Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre
– Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel
– Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor
Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.
While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East.
Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto
Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada
Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran
Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross
In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.
With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.
– Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt
– Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
– Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)
– David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University
While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.
As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.
– Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center
– Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group
– Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge
– Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center
– Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute
The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.
With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.
– Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House
– Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University
– Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran
– Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center
– Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor